Q: If meditation requires that we do not think anything, then why do we need to remember our mantra?
A: There is a reason why you need to remember your mantra. You are using mantra as a vehicle to reach that state of not thinking. As long as you have a mind, that mind has to have some thought. That’s a basic, fundamental definition of mind—in fact, the very nature of mind is spanda (pulsation) with full awareness that it moves. When it is energetic movement, it is in the form of prana. When it is movement in terms of thoughts, then it is called mind. Prana as a vehicle for understanding the movement of thoughts is called mind, and the vehicle for awareness of movement in the form of its energetic dimension is also called mind. Mind is prana, prana is mind—both are exactly the same thing. When your mind is active, prana is active. When one is disturbed, the other is disturbed. When one is calm and tranquil, the other is calm and tranquil. This is an unavoidable law of nature.
Mind is prana, prana is mind—both are exactly the same thing.
So what you are trying to do in meditation is find a way of calming your mind or concentrating and energizing your pranic field. Mantra is a vehicle. But not all mantras work in this way. Many of the mantras that you may have heard or read about are not necessarily for calming your mind. In fact, nothing could be a better vehicle for calming and gaining mastery over your mind than your breath. You could have tens of thousands of mantras on one side, and your breath on the other side—your own breath will have greater power to deal with your mind than all those tens of thousands of mantras combined. And yet we cannot always so easily control our breath. Prana and mind are so intertwined that when you try to deal with one, the disturbance in the other automatically brings many other disturbances to the forefront.
A disturbed ecology of your body, mind, and senses leads to disease, hormonal imbalances, and shakiness in your nervous system. Sometimes this disruption manifests outwardly as trembling limbs. But quite often, even the slightest amount of disturbance can be observed at the cellular level. In fact, that’s what blood pressure is all about. At every moment, your heart is regulating blood pressure, and your blood pressure is continuously changing. If you take your blood pressure now and then take it a few minutes later, you will get two different readings. Your heart rate variability also continuously responds to the slightest change in mental and physical conditions—pain, excitement, or even sneezing. If you have a back problem and sit one way, there is no pain. But as soon as you turn slightly, the neuromuscular junctions are fired by your brain and you register the pain. That is how extremely refined our bodies are. Because our heart and breath respond to the minutest change that is occurring in the body, there is a continuous change in the vibratory pattern of our energy, our pranic force.
We see this with mental disturbance as well. When you are sitting for meditation and suddenly realize that you have to change your ticket for tomorrow’s flight, even if you are not physically shaking, at a subtle level there is a slight trembling. At that time, you cannot meditate. You need a clear, calm, and relatively inwardly turned mind to do your mantra. In the beginning, no matter how much mantra you do, you will not become a great yogi if you cannot calm your mind and turn it inward. And an advanced yogi does not need mantra to practice meditation.
Mantra purifies your mind so you are more prepared to receive divine grace.
So why are we doing mantra? Mantra is a wonderful living body of divine grace which helps you become connected and remain connected to the higher divinity that is in you. It allows that guiding grace to descend. Regardless of whether or not you are prepared to receive that grace, mantra works for you so that you can receive and assimilate that grace, and as a result, you become more prepared to do your meditation. The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, sutras 1:23–29, explains that the function of mantra is to infuse your mind and heart with divine awareness—awareness of God, or Ishvara. When you are connected with that divinity, the grip of obstacles (both spiritual and worldly) over you will become weaker and weaker. The fewer obstacles we have, the fewer afflictions we have. And the fewer afflictions we have, the healthier we become and the more effective our practice will be. If you go to a temple, a church, or a mosque with a pure, clear, and calm mind, you will have one experience. If you go there with a disturbed mind, you will have a different experience. So that is what mantra does: it purifies your mind so you are more prepared to receive divine grace.
Sometimes you are careless and may become bored with your mantra. You get an excellent mantra, and six months later you want a new one. But quite often, that’s the very mantra you need. An experienced teacher exactly knows that you should do that particular mantra for six months, one year, five years, twenty years, one lifetime, many lifetimes—however long it takes. Some mantras (even many of the mantras that are given as your very first mantra by the tradition) have a specific function of cultivating willpower and determination, inner connection, and divine protection. They may not have a great direct impact on your meditation; however, the indirect impact on your meditation is enormous.
But you want to exchange this mantra, whose nature is to bring stability and groundedness in you, for a new one. This is what happens to those whose tendency (for whatever karmic reason) is to want to get rid of what is most beneficial for them. However, if you are a sincere and vigilant seeker, you summon your willpower and determination—and you stick to your practice and finally overcome these undesirable tendencies. This is when grace truly dawns and we become great meditators, great yogis, great souls. That is why mantra is so important.
Source: Khajuraho Sadhana Immersion Q&A (Khajuraho, 2017)